Commercial Motor Carriers: More Could Be Done to Determine Impact of Excessive Loading and Unloading Wait Times on Hours of Service Violations

GAO-11-198 Published: Jan 26, 2011. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 2011.
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The interstate commercial motor carrier industry moves thousands of truckloads of goods every day, and any disruption in one truckload's delivery schedule can have a ripple effect on others. Some waiting time at shipping and receiving facilities--commonly referred to as detention time--is to be expected in this complex environment. However, excessive detention time could impact the ability of drivers to perform within federal hours of service safety regulations, which limit duty hours and are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This report discusses: (1) How regularly do truck drivers experience detention time and what factors contribute to detention time? (2) How does detention time affect the commercial freight vehicle industry? (3) What federal actions, if any, could be taken to address detention time issues? GAO analyzed federal and industry studies and interviewed a nongeneralizable sample of truck drivers, as well as other industry stakeholders and FMCSA officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To support the primary mission of FMCSA in improving the safety of commercial motor vehicles, the Secretary of DOT should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to examine the extent to which detention time contributes to drivers violating hours of service requirements in its future studies on driver fatigue and detention time, and through data collected from its driver and vehicle inspections.
Closed – Implemented
The interstate commercial motor carrier industry moves thousands of truckloads of goods every day. Some waiting time at shipping and receiving facilities--commonly referred to as detention time--is to be expected. However, excessive detention time could impact the ability of drivers to perform within federal hours of service safety regulations, which limit duty hours and are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). In January 2011, GAO reported that, while there are no industry-wide data on the occurrence of detention time, GAO interviews with over 300 truck drivers and a number of industry representatives and motor carrier officials indicated that detention time occurs with some regularity. For example, about 59 percent of interviewed drivers reported experiencing detention time in the past 2 weeks and over two-thirds reported experiencing detention time within the last month. Further, for those drivers that reported previously experiencing detention time, about 80 percent reported that the excessive waiting time impacted their ability to meet federal hours of service safety requirements--a maximum of 14 hours on duty each day, including up to 11 hours of driving--by reducing their available driving time. While FMCSA collects data from drivers during roadside inspections--which provide information on the number of hours of service violations--the agency currently does not collect information to assess the extent to which detention time contributes to these violations. Agency officials stated that FMCSA does not identify the factors that contribute to hours of service violations, and detention time could be just one of many factors. Further, FMCSA research had focused on an overview of freight movement, but not the extent to which detention time occurs or how it may impact hours of service violations. Therefore, GAO recommended that FMCSA examine the extent to which detention time contributes to hours of service violations in its future studies on driver fatigue and detention time. In response, in December 2014, FMCSA published the first phase of an examination of the extent to which detention time contributes to drivers violating hours of service requirements. The first phase of the study focused on the extent to which drivers experienced detention times in the course of their business; information from motor carriers that participated in the study indicated that about 10 percent of the stops experienced detention time. Phase 2 of the examination--initiated in August, 2015 and scheduled to be completed in April, 2018--will evaluate the safety and operational impact of driver detention time on work hours (e.g., driver fatigue), hours of service violations, and crashes. As a result of these studies, FMCSA should have the information the agency needs to help it obtain a clearer industry-wide picture about how detention time contributes to hours of service violations, which could help FMCSA determine whether additional federal action might be warranted to mitigate detention time as a potential safety issue.

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